How to enforce an agreement regarding the purchase of a home?

UPDATED: Dec 27, 2012

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How to enforce an agreement regarding the purchase of a home?

About 1 1/2 years ago, my husband and I were looking to purchase a mobile home but did not have enough pay stubs to do so. I had just started my job and he was out of work. We decided to do a buy for option with my father-in-law. The dealer required a 20% down payment and the remainder was financed through him only. Neither my husband’s nor my name is on the house. We furnished the down payment, all the monthly payments, insurance and tax payments on the home. It is now approaching the 2 year mark, where my husband and I are supposed to have the home rolled to our name. We are now on the outs with my father-in-law. Can he legally prevent this from happening?

Asked on December 27, 2012 under Real Estate Law, South Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

No, he cannot avoid giving you the home-or possibly, at a minimum, returning all the money you spent for it to you.

Contracts or agreements to sell homes are legally enforceable. If you had a written contract, you can go to court to enforce it--you would sue your father in law based on the contract, seeking a court order (injunction) requiring him to turn over title to you. If you only had an oral or verbal contract, however, you may have a problem--as a general rule, contracts to buy real estate must be in writing to be enforced.

So if your agreement was not in writing, you may not be able to enforce it. However, there are still legal doctrines, like promissory estoppel (people are sometimes bound to oral promises if they made the promise to make you do something, like pay money, and you followed through and did that thing) or unjust enrichment (people may not be unjustly--or unfairly--enriched, like by taking your money and not giving you anything in return) which can still offer you some relief. This doctrines would generally give you montary compensation, however, not the home.

You should speak with an attorney about the situation and your options.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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